Dharavi, one of the largest slums in the world, densely populated by a vastly diverse community is situated on a three sq.km patch of land in the very heart of the city of Mumbai.It is an intricate mass of labyrinthine roads, open sewers, hutments and filth, all of which over a million residents call home.For parents here, many of who are second generation, illiterate, often illegal migrants who live well below the poverty line, there is, as is everywhere in such communities, a deep desirefor upward mobility.
Dharavi itself is a difficult neighbourhood, but this desirefor mobility is amply evident in the way the community lives.While communal sanitation blocks, and streets are usually in deplorably dirty conditions on account of the sheer number of people who are densely packed into the slum, houses are kept well in most places.People living in Dharavi themselves display the same desire to earn more, educate their children better and live well as anyoneelse.
That said, women and children here are at as much risk as anywhere in slums around the world, and with as little power over their circumstances as in severely underprivileged communities everywhere.
The Abhilasha Center is a project started in 1978 that seeks to make an impact in these adverse conditions for women and children who live here.The Centre operates in many different ways.It provides a Balwadi– a daycare centre for children of women who have often nowhere to leave them as they leave for work themselves. Approximately 200 children are enrolled here, many of who come in everyday to be imparted basic preschool education and given a healthy midday meal.Classes are held twice a day, and the medium of instruction is tri - lingual– English, Hindi and Marathi.Children study here till they reach preparedness to be enrolled in municipal schools in Class I.Teachers attempt to regularly interact with parents and involve them in their child’ s education.Lectures are held often and the Centre is now a well entrenched institution in the slum.
The Centre also provides vocational training to young women in the community.Classes in sewing, embroidery, mehndi(henna application) are organized.Sewing machines are available for women who take up dress - making job work, and they are encouraged to come in and use these instead of having to invest in one of their own.None of these activities are chargedfor, and several women use these facilities daily.Since there is a need to have flexibility of hours, these women are encouraged to come in whenever they can find time, so that even with their erratic hours, there is a sense of ability to catch up whenever they can.
A study centre is provided in the evening to students of surrounding slums to study in peace & safety.
The Abhilasha Center has persisted in its efforts to make a difference despite fairly adverse conditions.The neighbourhood can be volatile and oftentimes dangerous, and it is extremely difficult to find qualified teachers and other staff who are willing to commute several hours a day to work in these conditions.The Centre constantly tries to broaden the scope of its activities to cover many more women and children, and its impact in the community has continued to grow over the years.